Coaching changes, spring ball at forefront of Cal football’s return

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Cal football returned to Memorial Stadium in late February, as the Bears kicked off the 2021 season with the start of spring ball. The team finished its 2020 season with a final record of 1-3 and had several games cancelled due to COVID-19-related disruptions. During the offseason, the Bears collectively put on more than 646 lbs. of “good weight” — a telling sign that Cal’s spring training has been going well, according to Cal head coach Justin Wilcox.

“Our whole mission in life right now is to improve,” Wilcox said. “That may seem like a catch-all, but it’s true.”

There will be plenty of opportunities for the Bears to improve this season, and the team is well on its way to achieving that goal. New additions to the staff like head athletic performance coach Brian Johnson are making their impact early on the team. Johnson is bringing his personal style to the Bears’ lair, incorporating analytics and GPS-tracking into all of Cal’s practices and conditioning sessions.

“It gives us a bunch of different metrics,” Johnson said. “But we just really keep it basic, so we don’t get lost in data.”

Johnson and the rest of the staff use this tracking data to determine the effectiveness of both the volume and intensity of team workouts.

“They’re smart kids,” Johnson said. “They’re at Cal, so obviously they’re smart kids, but they wanna know, ‘how is this? Why is this?’ ”

But Johnson isn’t the only new member making contributions early. Tight ends coach Geep Chryst has also joined Cal’s staff. Chryst was previously the Denver Broncos tight ends coach in 2018 and has worked with Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, also a former member of the Broncos staff. Chryst’s expertise should play a huge role in the offense moving forward, as the tight end position has played an integral role in Musgrave’s past offenses. Chryst described Musgrave’s scheme as an “NFL offense,” seemingly indicating that the offense will open up a considerable amount more than it did in 2020.

“(Musgrave’s) not watering it down, he’s challenging these guys to execute at a high level right now,” Chryst said.

However, there remains a hole in the coaching staff. The Bears have yet to hire a defensive backs coach after Marcel Yates’ departure last month. Currently, Wilcox — a former defensive back himself — and graduate assistant Ryan Conry have been leading the position. The coach position, which has seen back-to-back replacements in recent years, is of utmost importance for Cal, as the Bears have had some of their top draft prospects be defensive backs, such as Ashtyn Davis, Jaylinn Hawkins and Camryn Bynum, who is hoping to get drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft.

“We want to make sure to get the right person for our program,” Wilcox said in a recent press conference. “I’m sure they’ll be looking forward to the new (defensive back) coaching being here, but it’s been a lot of fun the last few days.”

Spring ball is well underway, but the 2021 season looks to bring energy back to Memorial Stadium this fall. New staff members, an unlocked offense, some position changes and an official schedule should shake things up for the Bears going forward.

Jesse Stewart covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jessedstew.